Some of you may have heard of Su Kahumbu’s thriving organic farms that sit on former dump sites and now supply major retail outlets in the country. How about the famous flying toilets? There is now even a more enhanced version where each family or housing unit is allocated two-bucket toilets.
Once the buckets are full, they are delivered to biodigesters to be emptied, cleaned, and returned the following day. The biodigesters are themselves a marvel as they convert this human waste to bio-fuel which can be used for cooking and lighting.
There is also the toilet bag which is a self-sanitizing, single-use, bio-degradable toilet which is in the form of a slim elongated plastic bag with a thin gauze layer inside it. The inside is coated with a thin film of urea. It is designed to be used once, sitting, squatting or standing and it can either be held by hands or placed in a cut plastic bottle or a small bucket.
But the most ‘memorable’ is the long winding trails of raw sewage, in some places passing right in front of residential houses, leaving behind a putrefying stench of congestion and poor infrastructure against a backdrop of beautiful flats mushrooming in the background. The new ultra-modern flats are part of a joint slum-upgrading project by the government of Kenya and the United Nations’ Habitat.
Yes. You have guessed it right. This is Kibera – Africa’s second-largest slum and an increasing centre of attraction for a new emerging kind of tourism dubbed ‘slum tourism’. Slum tourism is doing so well that in Kenya, there are already a couple of tour companies charging about £20 to offer guided trips through the slum.
Covering 250 hectares and with a population estimated at 170,070 (2009 population census), Kibera is regarded as the largest slum in Africa. It originated as a settlement for Nubian soldiers returning from service with the King’s African Rifles (KAR) who were allocated plots by the British in gratitude for their military efforts around 1904. Kibera then was situated on the KAR military exercise grounds in close proximity to the KAR headquarters along Thika Road.
The population density is extremely high with about 1,250 persons per hectare. The daily lives of people living in Kibera and other similar slums in Kenya is the inspiration behind the so-called kadogo (Swahili for small or tiny) economy where products like cooking oil, paraffin and sugar are packed in units just enough for a kadogo meal – enough for a day’s meal.
Apparently, this huge population, living in conditions most would find unbearable, has many more of life’s lessons to share and the world is beginning to notice that it has a lot to learn from Kibera’s stories of success in the midst of a bleak existence and they are trading the adrenalin rush of a Maasai Mara game drive or a hike up Africa’s second tallest mountain, for a taste of the other side of human existence in the heart of Kibera.
But Kibera’s stories go beyond the innovative toilets and the organic gardens. It has recently been the site of a great many award-winning filming projects such as Kibera kid, Togetherness Supreme and Soul Boy. Even The Constant Gardener used Kibera as a backdrop to its storyline – and now slum tourism.
If slum tourism is a new attraction, then it is one Kenya can capitalise on but with a touch of great sensitivity and care lest we go beyond the barrier of the so-called human experience to one where the residents of Kenya’s slums are seen as animals in one large zoo.